Category “Nature & Environment”

Carbon Democracy

Timothy Mitchell (2011)

TimothyMitchell_CarbonDemocracy Buried amongst sometimes somewhat haughty paragraphs of Mitchell’s book are two fairly radical propositions. The first is that ‘[d]emocratisation has generally depended on engineering […] forms of vulnerability’, and this vulnerability arises because particular manufacturing processes ‘can render the technical processes of producing concentrations of wealth dependent on the well-being of large numbers of people’. What Mitchell means to say is that certain vital processes – to do with energy, as it happens – become vulnerable due to structural bottlenecks, and that leveraging these vulnerabilities has enabled the process of ‘democratisation’. The two examples he covers are those of coal and oil. Coal mines tended to be distal from urban centres and susceptible to strikes by coal miners, which would spread downstream along the supply chain to railways, etc. This allowed coal workers to press for democratic concessions.

The story to do with the structural vulnerabilities around oil is more complicated, and I am not convinced Mitchell’s story is entirely self-consistent. Here we find the – to me – second radical proposition: that oil companies throughout history have been far more concerned with constricting the supply of oil, rather than expanding it.

The net result is that most of Mitchell’s book reads like a whirlwind tour of the 20th Century oil-bearing regions, with Western oil companies and their government cronies in a constant tussle with governments desperately looking for ways to get their national fossil fuel endowment to market.

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Climate Economics

Richard Tol (2014)

RichardTol_ClimateEconomics One of the first attempts at a textbook on Climate Economics. Probably the best overview of neoclassical climate economics in a single volume. For a critical non-neoclassical review, read  Chalmers & Shackley’s (2014) review of the book.

One point: as a neo-classicist, Tol has a deeply instilled ‘equilbrium view’ and brings this epistemic perspective to his view of how the ‘natural world’ works.  His is a view of climate change as a continuous secular process that amounts (‘merely’) to a x-degreeC-per-year change in temperature. What ‘equilibrium thinkers’ need to understand is that the Earth system is currently not in equilibrium; most of the mounting costs aren’t to do with the (more predictable) secular changes in average temperatures and precipitation: they are to do, rather, with the increased variability and (associated) decreased predictability of ‘weather’.  Note that I am not speaking here about the uncertainty to do with future (average) temperature trends.

I think this is important, because people trained in economics (and more especially finance) should at least have an strong intuition for the costs (‘premium’) associated with decreased predictability / increased variability – although to date little work has been done in tying this into climate change economics.

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A Perfect Moral Storm

Stephen Gardiner (2011)

StephenGardiner_APerfectMoralStorm An opening salvo towards an ‘Ethics of Climate Change’.

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Man and the Natural World: Changing attitudes in England 1500–1800

Keith Thomas (1983)

KeithThomas_ManAndTheNaturalWorld _

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Moral Tribes

Joshua Greene (2013)

JoshuaGreene_MoralTribes _

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This Changes Everything

Naomi Klein (2014)

NaomiKlein_ThisChangesEverything _

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Ocean of Life

Callum Roberts (2013)

Ocean of Life: How our Seas are Changing, by Callum Roberts This book will be disappointing to anyone who has worked through Callum Robert’s spectacular The Unnatural History of the Sea. Ocean of Life, in contrast, is poorly structured, repetitive, and lacking in scientific detail and rigour throughout.

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The Energy of Nations

Jeremy Leggett (2013)

JeremyLeggett 2013 EnergyOfNations Lots of people believe that climate change is real. Many still believe that peak oil is real, even with today’s obfuscating fanfare around the extraction of unconventional oil and -gas. Jeremy Leggett takes a ‘risk approach’ to these twin threats. Most of all, though, his book provides an insightful look into what’s happening behind the scenes in climate- and energy lobbying. Highly recommended.

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Black Elk Speaks

John Neihardt (1932)

If you speak American, you cannot afford not to read this book.

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Nature: Western attitudes since ancient time

Peter Coates (1998)

An astounding book. Peter Coates does a remarkable job of canvasing into words a complex, nuanced and multi-dimensional concept: ‘nature’. A meta-study, really. Erudite, humble and somehow unopinionated through to the very end.

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